Practical analysis for investment professionals
15 August 2013

Poll: What Factor Plays the Most Important Role in One’s Career?

As professionals, our careers tend to be a high priority in our lives. Various factors shape our careers, but which one is the most important? When we asked this question in our CFA Institute Financial NewsBrief survey this week, we received 1,136 responses, indicating that there is no single dominant factor.

Which of these plays the most important role in one’s career?
Poll: Which of these plays the most important role in one's career?

On-the-job performance (34%) ranked the highest. This result could be interpreted to mean that merit prevails, but at the same time, its percentage rank does not seem high enough to suggest that the workplace is a meritocracy. Interpersonal and communication skills (26%) and networking (23%) ranked a close second and third, respectively. These factors probably fuel each other, and the role they play likely ebbs and flows depending on the stage of one’s career. Perhaps the hardest result to explain is that luck (11%) ranked fourth, which might encourage us to complain less about randomness in life and focus more on performance.  The message seems to be to keep an eye on all five of these factors as you progress in your career!

Please note that the content of this site should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute.

About the Author(s)
Usman Hayat, CFA

Usman Hayat, CFA, writes about sustainable, responsible, and impact investing and Islamic finance. He is the lead author of "Environmental, Social, and Governance Issues in Investing: A Guide for Investment Professionals;" the literature review, "Islamic Finance: Ethics, Concepts, Practice;" and the research report "Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact Investing and Islamic Finance: Similarities and Differences." He is interested in online learning and has directed three e-courses for CFA Institute: "ESG-100," "Islamic Finance Quiz," and "Residual Income Equity Valuation." The other topics he writes about are macroeconomics and behavioral finance. He has experience working in securities regulation and as an independent consultant. His qualifications include the CFA charter, the FRM designation, an MBA, and an MA in development economics. He has served as a content director at CFA Institute. He is a former executive director at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and former CEO of the Audit Oversight Board (Pakistan). His personal interests include reading and hiking.

17 thoughts on “Poll: What Factor Plays the Most Important Role in One’s Career?”

  1. nabeel says:

    luck plays more important than education, that hurts when you have given so much time and effort in the pursuit of the charter

    1. Nabeel,

      Thanks for your comment. I can understand your point. Life seems
      unfair when luck trumps effort. But in this survey, its on the job
      performance that has come at the top. I wonder if respondents think that
      performance over the long outweighs the advantages or disadvantages we
      have due to random developments or luck.

  2. Vijay says:

    On the job performance is directly correlated with education…. Good education primarily leads to good performance. hence education should be coupled with first option.

    1. Vijay,

      Thanks for the feedback. This is exactly what one of my colleagues
      emphasized to me yesterday that continuing professional development (CPD)
      influences performance in the long run but its effect may not be

      1. M Shahbaz Atish says:

        why should take maximum profit with the cost of society in muslim country?

  3. ashot_m says:

    One also should ask a question: what factor played most important role in starting one’s career.

    1. ashot_m

      Thanks for the suggestion. What factor played the most important role
      in choosing a career path is an interesting question. I will bring it
      to the attention of my colleagues for a possible future poll.

  4. Jonk says:

    Education is more a visa more than anything (even though this might be changing as well). As such it is a prerequisite for all the other forces to take play. Everyone will generally have a similar level of educarion, and thus it cant be a game-changing factor. Its more like a ticket to game.

    1. Jonk,

      Interesting point about education being an entry ticket. But education is not only the initial university degree that one may get before starting one’s career. CPD is also education and that should help improve performance.

  5. Roy says:

    Someone can be a poor people-person and have little education but delivers in a job that doesn’t heavily rely on these other factors. They might get stuck in fairly narrow roles though.

    I think being a good networker is tied with being good at communications and interpersonal skills (they’re both ranked closely). Someone can be good at these but went to the school of hard knocks and doesn’t deliver at work. They’ll go some way but they might have to move around jobs/companies a lot.

    Someone can have be great at passing exams but is a loner, can’t communicate and doesn’t deliver in the workplace. It’ll be difficult for them to get past the job interview stage. At any rate, Knowledge isn’t just acquired through books and exams. And Wisdom can be gained through one’s own experiences and one’s networks.

    But it’s hard to be lucky for very long when you’re anti-social, uneducated and don’t deliver at work.

    Overall, it seems to depend on the jobs and organisations. High-level vs low-level, technical vs relationship job, big company vs small company, political vs meritocratic company etc.

    1. Roy,

      Thanks for the detailed comment. I share your view that “Knowledge isn’t just acquired through books and exams. And Wisdom can be gained through one’s own experiences and one’s networks.”

  6. Joshua Adu says:

    Education plays key role in all the other items, networking, on the job performance, interpersonal and communication skills and luck (luck always favors the prepared one.)

    1. Joshua Adu

      Thanks for sharing your view. I can see the case for education (incl. CPD) helping performance, networking, and skills. Not so sure about education playing a role in luck.

  7. Arnaud says:

    This survey is very interesting. Thanks !


  8. Arnaud,

    Thank you for your kind comment.

    We tend to post results of a survey question every Thursday.

  9. umar says:

    It is interesting to see the small share education has. I thing the percentages would change considerably when you move from the developed world to the developing. In developing countries luck and networking matters more and possibly these values would differ depending on whether you work in public sector or private sector.

    1. umar,

      Thank you for sharing your observation. I am also inclined to think that results are likely to vary depending on context, though the list of factors is unlikely to change as much. Education and CPD probably do help in the other factors, as stated by a number of other respondents.

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